ND notebook: Kelly brushes off NFL rumors

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ND notebook: Kelly brushes off NFL rumors

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Only a few days before kickoff of the BCS Championship, the NFL is the furthest thing from Brian Kelly's mind.

As a slew of NFL coaches were fired following the conclusion of the regular season a week ago, Kelly's name was thrown out as one that would interest some teams -- including the Bears -- if he were keen on jumping to the next level. When asked on Saturday, Kelly didn't offer any hints about overtures from the NFL, adding that every inquiry is directed through his agent.

"It's flattering if there is interest, which I don't know that there is," Kelly said. "But again, that is such a secondary topic for me right now, it's all about this game."

If Kelly is thinking about bolting, he certainly didn't intimate it on Saturday -- and it would come as a surprise even when one gets beyond the usual coachspeak of a press conference. As a successful college coach who, by some observer's accounts, has the intangibles necessary to coach in the NFL, the rumors will be there, even if there's nothing backing them at this moment.

"When I took the job at Notre Dame, I think I said it was a dream job," Kelly explained. "But I never went around day to day anything about being the Notre Dame head coach, because the job that I had in hand was what I was thinking about. And I think that's the same thing with the NFL.

"I think from my perspective I've got the best job in the country, NFL, college, high school, whatever. I just look at the place that I'm at and thankful for the opportunity that I have."

Kelly striving for Alabama's success

Nick Saban doesn't like the throw the D-word around, but a third title in four years would firmly slap a dynasty label on the Tide. Just as Kelly said earlier in the year he hoped to establish the kind of dominance at home Bob Stoops has at Oklahoma, he's hoping to see the kind of year-to-year prosperity established by Saban at Alabama.

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"We're talking about historic success," Kelly said. "We're not talking about somebody that wasn't ranked last year -- Notre Dame -- or at the start of the year. Your program is defined in consistency, and Alabama is that model. I concede to that. It's where we want to be."

Notre Dame hasn't won back-to-back titles since the 1940s under Frank Leahy, while Ara Parseghian's two championships were seven years apart. No team has won back-to-back titles since Nebraska in the mid-1990s (although USC supporters would contest that).

It's not easy to do, but Saban's on the cusp of doing it -- and Notre Dame, obviously, wants to get to the point where it's feasible for them as well.

"We want to be back here next year," Kelly said. "I think there's been some commentators that have talked about, is Notre Dame for real? Well, for me we're for real because we're here. We won all of our games; that's clear. Where is Notre Dame going to be as it relates to the consistency thing? And that's why I'm the head coach and that's why I want to be the head coach, because I want to show we can do this consistently."

Coming out of the woodwork

The holidays were an interesting time for Notre Dame players, who returned to their friends and families only a few weeks away from playing for a National Championship. Offensive lineman Chris Watt, who grew up in a family that supported the University of Illinois, said the whole experience has "been kind of surreal" while center Braxston Cave said he's heard from distant, distant relatives trying to snatch up tickets for the game.

Notre Dame players get six tickets for the game, and Manti Te'o's using all of them for his family, although with five siblings and two parents, someone might've had to stay home.

"I think every individual who plays in this game is contacted from family members that they haven't met yet," Te'o said.

Cave, in his fifth year at Notre Dame, won't have any friends coming down to South Florida for the game, though. Recognizing his envious position, the center grinned: "All my friends have jobs now. They couldn't take time off."

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

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USA TODAY

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

Illinois State, Loyola and Northern Iowa will all be in action Saturday.

And you can catch all three games on CSN and CSN+.

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois State, 2 p.m., CSN+

The Redbirds (4-3) are coming off of a tough loss on the road at Tulsa, but they're off to a solid start early in the season. Senior point guard Paris Lee, a Proviso East product, is having a monster season for Illinois State so far, averaging 15 points, 6.4 assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee-Martin (8-2) is off to a great start with only a pair of road losses to SEC opponents Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Milwaukee at Loyola, 3 p.m., CSN

The Ramblers (8-2) have won three straight games and will try to carry that momentum into Horizon League play. Junior forward Aundre Jackson is off to a great start, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Loyola features a few former local high school stars. Senior Milton Doyle (Marshall) and junior Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well.

Milwaukee (4-5) is off to a decent start in a rebuilding year under new head coach LaVall Jordan and is coming off a road win against Montana State.

Rockford Boylan product Brock Stull is the Panthers' leading scorer and rebounder. The sophomore guard is averaging 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

North Dakota at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m., CSN

Northern Iowa (4-4) is coming off of a blowout win over South Dakota State.

Senior Jeremy Morgan has been doing it all for the Panthers. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. Morgan is putting up 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest this season.

North Dakota (5-2) has two straight wins, including a victory over in-state rival North Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks are led by Quinton Hooker, who's averaging 16.7 points per game this season.

Wednesday on CSN: Northern Iowa hosts South Dakota State

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USA TODAY

Wednesday on CSN: Northern Iowa hosts South Dakota State

Northern Iowa tries to break its four-game losing streak as they hose South Dakota State on Wednesday night. This game will be carried live on CSN with a 7:00 p.m. tip.

The Panthers (3-4) started the season with wins over power-conference teams like Arizona State and Oklahoma before dropping the last few games.

Senior guard Jeremy Morgan is off to a strong start this season as he's putting up 15.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 2.9 assists per game. 

They'll get a solid test from South Dakota State as the Jackrabbits have one of the best mid-major players in the country in sophomore Mike Daum.

The 6-foot-9 Daum is averaging 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season as he's the frontrunner for Player of the Year in the Summit League this season.